We just elected a man with zero experience in government, primarily because he has no experience. That’s especially scary considering that “we” is a real stretch: Trump lost the popular vote by over 2.5 million as of this writing. It’s the same “we” that keeps cropping up when we consider the stupid things that “we” have done—such as invading Iraq.
But there is no avoiding the surreality that a complete novice is about to become leader of the free world, and we will be forced to watch that train wreck occur in real time, over the next four years.
We’re in uncharted territory, witnesses to a hostile takeover and reinvention of the presidency. In response, I am reinventing this blog. Trump won Political Survivor 2016, so now I’m reviewing the new show in town: The Political Apprentice. I’ll bring PS back, but not for a couple of years.
Like the rest of us liberals, the mainstream media has gone a little bonkers since the election. The phrase “President-Elect Trump” seems to be sticking in a lot of throats, and it won’t get any better when the “-Elect” comes off in January.
The last Republican president was also a poor choice for the office, but he at least had government experience. He understood that a cognizant world leader follows certain protocols. Ack, am I actually praising W now? I am becoming a stranger in a strange land.
Trump is having none of that protocol shit, of course. And why should he? He promised to break the rules and shake things up. So far, his salesman diplomacy has done exactly that. He renewed tensions between blood rivals India and Pakistan with a call to the Pakistani prime minister that sounds like the salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross stroking their marks.
“Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, you have a very good reputation. You are a terrific guy. You are doing amazing work which is visible in every way. Feel free to call me any time even before 20th January, that is, before I assume my office.”
When Sharif invited him to visit Pakistan, Trump raved about exploring that “fantastic country, fantastic place of fantastic people… Please convey to the Pakistani people that they are amazing and all Pakistanis I have known are exceptional people.”
This happened. You are not reading The Onion. And there’s more…
All that glad-handing came a month or two after Trump claimed best-friend status with Pakistan’s sworn enemy, India: “There won’t be any relationship more important to us.” A week ago, the Indian Times quoted a Trump supporter saying that Trump would approve a bill to declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism if Congress passed it.
Trump loves to shout out stuff that might be better whispered, and he was just warming up. He opened a second front, with the Chinese. This story argues convincingly that Trump’s phone conversation with Taiwan’s president was a deliberate act designed to put China on notice and stroke his voter base.
Diplomacy has required that there be no U.S. embassy in Taiwan—and no phone calls—since 1979. Even though we still sell them arms “for self defense.” It’s complicated. China filed an official complaint with Obama’s State Department about Trump’s behavior, and Trump responded with Twitter volleys right out of his campaigning style:
Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 4, 2016
their country (the U.S. doesn't tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don't think so!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 4, 2016
Note to Washington, the press, the haters and the apologists: quit waiting for Trump to change. It’s not going to happen.
These head games remind me of Muhammed Ali’s strategy going into fights: getting into your opponent’s head early can tip the contest in your direction before you even meet. And watching Trump spar with the Chinese probably appeals to far more than his 62 million voters. On a basic level, it appeals to me. But this “extreme diplomacy” is many levels higher than two fighters preparing to beat each other into submission.
For one thing, our cyber-weakness is well-known and I expect that the Chinese are at least as technical as the Russians. Both countries are our frenemies and rivals and partners, and keeping all of that in the air at once makes diplomacy a scary juggling act; I can easily imagine an angry phone call from Obama to Trump: “Until you’re the President, kindly shut the fuck up!”
Even if Trump’s diplomatic insult was deliberate, IMO there is no danger of war. China and the U.S. are economically joined at the hip. Take this test: pick any room in your house and start examining objects that have their place of manufacture printed on them. Most of those objects will read, Made in China. That country needs us as much as we need them.
One of the most memorable lines in Campaign 2016 came from Rand Paul (paraphrased slightly): “Stop borrowing money from China to spend somewhere else.” What’s truly hilarious: a good portion of that borrowed money winds up back in China, spent on Chinese goods.
So China may complain, but they’re not going to walk away from their biggest debtor AND best customer. The U.S. owes them over a trillion dollars. Calling in that debt would devalue the dollar, harming both countries. That’s not going to happen, but something will. Slights that we deliver on a national scale will be remembered on a national scale. As the saying goes, “What goes around, comes around.” China will be looking for ways to slap Trump back.
The most compelling argument that the call was no accident is also the simplest: heads of state do not “cold call” other heads of state. Trump’s ignorance of protocol is an easy-to-imagine reason, but here’s a far better bet: The Donald is investigating a luxury hotel project in Taoyuan, near the main airport.
So doesn’t it make sense that all this fuss could come down to Trump’s business interests? Sigh, no surprise whatsoever.
I’ve written the Democrats’ slogan for 2020 already:
Are you better off than you were four years ago? The Trumps are.
Trump’s picks for his cabinet and advisors alternate between “as promised” (former generals) and “a complete betrayal” (former Wall Street executives). Let’s not forget the moneyed elite, for example Amway billionaire and committed charter school advocate Betsy DeVos nominated to be Secretary of Education.
The most interesting pick IMO is former General James Mattis for Secretary of Defense. With all the truly ugly nominations being made (see: Jeff Sessions for A.G.), “Mad Dog” Mattis seems to have talked Trump out of waterboarding, maybe out of scrapping the Iran deal, and he advocates working with alliances such as NATO. That’s a damn decent start.
But there’s trouble with the Constitution, and some senators—Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand is one—cannot vote to approve Mattis. Civilian control of the armed forces is a foundation of democracy (see: banana republics), and so a former solder must be at least seven years out of the service. Used to be 10. Mattis has been retired only three and a half.
But Congress made an exception for General George Marshall in 1950, and it worked out well. They’ll do it again. Against the Constitution, yes, but IMO the right thing to do.
Contrast General Mattis, whose confirmation will be opposed, with two positions completely free of Congressional confirmation and oversight… the other General, Michael Flynn, is Trump’s National Security Advisor, and a fan of conspiracy theories and fake news.
Flynn’s son tweeted about “Hillary Clinton’s child sex ring” run out of a Washington, DC pizzeria. Just last weekend, a man fired an AR-15 inside the pizzeria, as part of his personal investigation of the conspiracy.
Talking into Trump’s other ear will be Chief White House Strategist Steve Bannon, another conspiracy theorist who ran brietbart.com like a political Believe-It-Or-Not—with Not as the sane choice. The site thrived, with “news” fit for the National Enquirer, aluminum foil hats, and birthers.
Then there are “the shows” and I don’t mean Sunday morning pressers. Dana Milbank tells a frightening tale about the influence of InfoWars’ Alex Jones on Trump, making Nancy Reagan’s reliance on a astrologer look like real policy.
“I only know what’s on the internet.”
Have we scratched the surface, at least? Maybe. I want to know what happens when Trump is briefed on Area 51 and the real illegal aliens.
Speaking of conspiracy theories, Nate Silver—the poll interpreter who predicted Hillary’s victory by a much smaller margin than most—actually predicted Trump’s win last May… along with another impossible event:
The Political Apprentice #1